Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I'm reading a ton of different books now. I didn't finish anything last week but I started a bunch of new books, which may be why I'm not really finishing anything. :) This week I vow to finish at least two of the books I'm reading!

I started Arimathea, by Frank McGuinness, and it's pretty amazing. It's set in Donegal in the 1940s, post-World War 2, and it's about the effect on a small town of a visit by an Italian painter who comes to paint the Stations of the Cross in the local church. The local priest arranges for him to rent a home from the O'Donovan family, and the painter's arrival makes all kinds of waves.

I also started Double Negative, by Ivan Vladislavic, a South African writer. It's about a man who becomes a photographer and returns to South Africa after spending some years living abroad. It's set during apartheid and after. Vladislavic is an important South African writer and I'm enjoying getting to know his work.

Finally, I started the audio version of John Waters' Carsick. If you read this book you must do the audio. He narrates it and it's just- well, it's hysterical. It's hilarious and raunchy and ridiculous.  You'll love it, if you like that kind of thing.

And I'm still stringing along reading The Line of Beauty, which I love and don't want to end. I said on Twitter the other day that when you've got a Hollinghurst book in one hand and John Waters in the other, everything else just seems dull by comparison. Boring and badly written is the exact way I put it and while that may be a slight overstatement, sometimes you read a book that brings such sheer enjoyment that you wonder how anything else can hold up. That's the case with these two!

And granted, they are two very different books. Beauty is depressing but gloriously written; Carsick is riotously funny, obscene and crazy and Waters' narration on the audio brings it to dizzying insane life.

What are you reading? See more at

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Europa Challenge Update

I've read a bunch of Europas over the past few weeks and rather than write four long reviews I decided to just do quick recaps.

The Cemetary of Swallows, by Mallock. All over the place in terms of tone and style but compelling nonetheless, it tells the story of a Frenchman who murders an elderly man in the Dominican Republic, for reasons that no one understands. Mallock is also the name of the detective in this case, a friend of the murderer's sister. He starts his investigation in the DR where he encounters corruption, a house of amber and more, with just hints of the horrors awaiting him to discover back in France. The story then takes a turn to World War 2 atrocities and reincarnation. Along the way you'll be treated to prose both purple and page-turning, until this hot mess bumps its way to a pretty conventional ending. 2014. Translated from the French.

Seven Lives and One Great Love, by Lena Divani, is a light bonbon about a cat and the woman he
loves. A pretty white cat named Zach is adopted by a woman he worships for no discernable reason; she's not a very good cat owner, that's for sure. Anyway he remains devoted and tries with some success to win her affection and attention. This would be fun one for the beach bag. 2014. Translated from the Greek.

Margherita Dolce Vita, by Stefano Benni, is an older title that tells a coming of age story mixed with an anti-materialism message. Margherita is a dreamy teen who lives with two brothers and her parents and everything is peachy until the Del Benes move in next door with their black cube of a house and shopping-mall lifestyle. Things take a dark turn and Margherita must figure out how to save her family from the changes she sees coming- if she can. I liked this book and I think it would appeal to readers who like a little quirky in their literary diets. 2006. Translated from the Italian.

Revolution Baby, by Joanna Gruda, was my favorite though. This is a
quasi-novel about a Jewish Polish boy who is hidden during World War 2 and the Holocaust, in various places around France. Julek has a peripatetic childhood even before war breaks out; his parents, hard-core Communists, don't want to raise him and have him to live with Polish comrades of theirs. His mother takes him to France but sends him to boarding school, then sends him all over the countryside in an effort to keep him safe. Told from his perspective and in simple language, his is a story of alienation and the constant struggle to find a place for himself, find a family, find a place to call his own. The adult narrator makes no effort to contexualize what happened to his child-self so we have to read between the lines to understand and I like it when a book makes me work a little like that. I really loved this book and want to recommend it to everyone. 2014.

These are books 5-8 of the 2014 Europa Challenge! You can join this ongoing challenge at

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones: Season Finale- The Children


Well I have to say this week's episode, sadly the last till 2015, was great. It jumped around a little but it definitely felt like characters were brought into line and readied for the next stage of their lives. And nothing will be the same for anyone after this week's finale.
  • Cersei tells Daddy Tywin she's not going to marry Margaery's brother and Daddy Tywin says yes she will, and Cersei says no I won't cause I'm having sex with my brother. Then she has very consensual sex with that brother.
  • Jaime and Varys helped Tyrion escape. He found Shae in Tywin's bed and killed her, then killed Tywin. So now he's a murderer, and he's in a box on a ship going somewhere. It looked like Varys is going with him, unless I misunderstood something. Do I sense another buddy situation?
  • Stannis Ex Machina. Jon Snow tries to negotiate a peace with Mance but just when his leadership would have been tested Stannis Baratheon arrives on the scene and takes Mance prisoner. Melisandre looks Jon up and down like a side of beef.
  • Daenerys learns that while dragons are cute when they're little, they grow up and cook people. She chains up her two smaller ones after the big one turns a little girl to charcoal. It's OK Dany, indoor pets live longer anyway.
  • Brienne finds Arya and battles the Hound for her, but Arya wants nothing to do with her despite being fascinated by the sight of this big grownup woman in armor. Arya takes off leaving the Hound alive but dying. She gets on a ship to Bravos and uses her magic coin for passage. Remember the French guy with highlights from a while back, the assassin? He gave her that for this very reason.
  • Bran and co. reach the magic tree house. Jojen dies heroically. Hodor hodors.
I was pretty much riveted the whole time.  I don't quite get what was up with those skeletons though. And does Melisandre know that Jon has king's blood? But which king? That doesn't make any sense, right? Now that my boyfriend Dreamy Charles Dance is off the show, it's up to my other boyfriend Dreamy Ciaran Hinds to take up the slack. So I hope we'll see more of Mance in Season Five.

But that won't be for a very long time indeed. These Game of Thrones seasons are too short and too far in between. I wouldn't want them to stretch it out by having more filler and hand-wringing but I wish the seasons were longer. Well, it was a pretty good season I guess. Highlights for me were the arc of Prince Oberyn, Jaime's continuing transformation and the Brienne and Podrick comic relief. I'm bored with Daenerys, was happy to see Joffrey buy it, and not very interested in what happens to Sansa. Little Finger took a big backseat this season too. Maybe we'll get more intrigue next season? We'll see! Will you be waiting with bated breath like me?

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished one book this week, Stefano Benni's Margarita Dolce Vita, a Europa Editions book from 2006. It's a coming of age story mixed with an anti-materialism message, and I enjoyed it, but it was a bit strange.
Otherwise I'm continuing on with Secrecy and The Line of Beauty. I should be finished with Secrecy this week. Not a lot to report!
I'm going to start Arimathea today, a book I bought in Ireland. It was a staff pick in several bookstores and doesn't appear to be available here. It's about an Italian artist who comes to a remote Donegal town and impacts the residents in different ways.

What about you? What are you reading? See more at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: ON LEAVE by Daniel Anselme

On Leave, by Daniel Anselme. Published 2014 by Faber & Faber. Literary Fiction. Translated from the French by David Bellos.

Daniel Anselme's short novel about soldiers on leave from the Algerian War was originally published in 1957 to little notice. The novel follows three soldiers on a 10-day leave, from their arrival on the military train to their departure in the middle of the night a week and change later. In the mean time, they drink, wander, meet with family and friends. They barely talk about the war but what they are running from, and going back to, haunts every page.

The majority of the book follows Lachaume, a former teacher who tries to reunite with his estranged wife only to find out that she's moved on. From there he becomes adrift, staying at a fleabag motel and spending his days in bars and cafés. Eventually he is invited to dinner with the family of one of his fellow soldiers who lives in a Communist enclave just outside Paris.  They later meet up with the third officer, who seems to be living in a different world entirely. But all three of them are bound by their alienation, by the war and by their imminent return to it.

On Leave is a book which takes place in the spaces in between. The action comes is social details, conversation, and all the things they don't say. It's a quiet book and profound. The men live in limbo; they can't settle in and they don't want to go back but their lives aren't their own. They are in the middle of the war; no end is in sight, and no end was in sight when Anselme wrote it based on snatches of conversation overheard in the real bars and cafés of the real Paris.

The book contains a very helpful introduction by translator David Bellos in which he gives a great summary of the Algerian War of Independence and cultural attitudes of the time. I don't know much about this subject so I was glad to have that information and I think you should read it if you're going to read this book. And I do recommend you read this book, because it's a beautifully wrought character study that is both very specific and broadly universal in its theme and subject. It's a strange and wonderful work, a memorable and sad story that is as true today as the day it was written.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Game of Thrones: Penultimate Episode Which Was Very Hard to Watch

Spoilers!!! Don't read this unless you already saw this week's episode.

Oh my.
So this week's "Game of Thrones" focused on the Wildling siege of Castle Black and Jon Snow taking charge as a leader. Tarly kissed Gilly for the first time, and the little boy from a couple of episodes ago wasted Igritte. The bald cannibal guy got a hammer to his head and lots of sympathetic minor characters from the Wall were killed in the battle. Even Ghost, Jon's dire wolf, joined the action. Honestly it was hard for me to watch, not so much because of the violence, a lot of which was shadowed and dark, but because it just seemed so dreadfully hopeless.

I don't always do well with suspense coupled with lots of gore, and The Wildlings had giants and wooly mammoths for Pete's sake. I kept waiting for Ents to emerge from the forest and stamp on the Wildlings but it didn't happen. Never mind that the Nights Watch guys seemed hopelessly incompetent. When they dropped that anchor though- yowza. That hurt. But it is also probably going to be the defining moment of the season for me.

And that's really all that happened. So it was a pretty good episode, I thought, with lots of action and forward motion, and no rape scenes. Lots of people getting arrows through their heads though, so just so you know "Game of Thrones" isn't getting soft on us. What's up next? Well, Jon decided to go out and take on Mance by himself, and I suppose the action will return to King's Landing next week. I have to say I liked having a whole episode in one locale, where we get some extended time with a single set of characters. This episode did not have the choppy feel that so many do, shuffling between so many sets of characters and situations, showing maybe five minutes of action for each. I'd like to see more of these longer stretches of narrative. And I can't wait for the finale next week!

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I finished three books this week. My husband and I did a little weekend getaway to Maine and we stayed in a very quiet B&B, which was great for reading. I brought three books I had already started, and managed to finish all three by the time we checked out on Sunday. They were
  • Seven Lives and One Great Love, by Lena Divani, a light diversion I enjoyed,
  • I Married You For Happiness, by Lily Tuck, a well-composed literary novel about a long marriage, also very good, and
  • On Leave, by Daniel Anselme, one of the few novels to have emerged from the French-Algerian War, about a group of disaffected soldiers home in Paris on leave.
On Leave was definitely my favorite and the one I'd recommend the most. I'll do a full review this week.

I also finished Revolution Baby, by Joanna Gruda, about a World War 2 hidden child, which I absolutely loved. Both Revolution Baby and On Leave will be in my top favorites this year.

Now that leaves me with some openings. I'm still enjoying The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst, and Secrecy, by Rupert Thomson, but I'll need to pick something else out of my pile, probably something new or newish. I'm thinking about starting Pushkin Hills, by Sergei Dovlatov, or Arimathea, by Frank McGuinness.  Any suggestions? What are you reading?

See more at

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: THE BALLAD OF A SMALL PLAYER, by Lawrence Osborne

The Ballad of a Small Player, by Lawrence Osborne. Published 2014 by Hogarth Books. Literary Fiction.

"Sometimes one can feel that one has suddenly lost something that one never had in the first place. It just slips out of the hand and breaks."

This sentence appears about halfway through the haunting new novel by travel writer and novelist Lawrence Osborne but its message and impersonal tone could be said to sum up the entire story. An Englishman on the run from the law and from himself, an ordinary man who styles himself "Lord" Doyle, is hiding out in the casinos and hotels of Macau, playing baccarat but really playing at winning and losing himself and his soul.

Baccarat is his favorite game because the way he plays it, it is pure chance. Nine is the magic number, and soon he finds himself on an unprecedented winning streak. But before he gets there he becomes besotted with a mysterious prostitute who is not what she seems. He falls ill and they spend a hazy time in her apartment; she feeds him, takes care of him and he wallows in this reverie until reality in the form of his gambling addiction takes hold again. Then he must navigate his way out of the dream and find out what's real, what will break and what won't.

I loved this book less than his first novel, The Forgiven, which had a stronger plot, but I was still entranced by this moody travelogue and tale of desperation and love. Osborne uses his travel-writing skills to immerse the reader in the setting- the smoky hallways and shady characters come alive, along with the bland hotel rooms, impersonal restaurants and overwhelming atmosphere of loneliness. The Ballad of a Small Player is above all a book for the senses and I'd recommend it to armchair travelers and those intrigued by slow simmering suspense and illusion.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: THE BONE MAN, by Wolf Haas

The Bone Man, by Wolf Haas. Published 2013 by Melville House

This is a very silly book indeed. It's also fairly gruesome as crime novels go. But it's got a great detective in Simon Brenner and a fun plot. Set in present-day Austria, the story focuses on a chicken shack where the well-heeled forsake gourmet fare in favor of the greasy stuff. You know, like when someone eats cheap barbecue because it makes him feel like a man of the people. That. But when some bones more human than chicken turn up in the pile, some questions need to get answered.

Investigating this mess, Brenner turns up all kinds of dirty dealings, including someone's head in a soccer bag. Haas's tone is ironic and silly as well as dark and he's got one of the funnest narrative voices in crime fiction as far as I'm concerned. He creates a very colorful world filled with bizarre characters you have to read to believe and a plot straight out of "Eating Raoul".

I read this book a while ago and a lot of the details are escaping me now, so I can't write a very long review other than to say Wolf Haas is a writer to check out, and The Bone Man is silly fun right till the end. If you like absurdist crime, definitely add Wolf Haas to your reading list.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Melville House.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Game of Thrones: He Squished Him Like a Grape, or The Mountain and The Viper

You know the drill- Here there be spoilers.

So you certainly can't say nothing happened this week.  The recap:
  • Sansa saves Baelish's bacon with the folks at the Vale by testifying that Lysa committed suicide because she was distraught over Baelish's feelings towards Sansa. Which, Sansa said, Lysa only imagined. 
  • Arya and the Hound arrive at the Vale only to find out that Lysa has died, and Arya loses it a little. The Hound seems like he's in pretty bad shape with a festering infection.
  • The Wildlings overrun the place where Sam's girl Gilly is staying and it looks like Igritte lets Gilly hide with her baby but Sam is convinced that she's dead, and he's devastated. 
  • Daenerys finds out, finally, that Jorah had been spying on her back in her Dothraki days. She was not pleased, and banishes him.
  • Grey Worm and Daenerys's assistant develop a sweet little romantic sub-plot.
  • Baelish tries to convince Robin Arryn to act more like a grownup and take on the role of being Lord of the Vale. Sansa vamps it up in an interesting outfit that might signal some change in her character.
  • Tyrion and Jaime have a tedious heart-to-heart about a cognitively-challenged cousin of theirs who liked to crush beetles. I was too bored to understand the point.
  • Then finally at long last we have the big standoff between Oberyn and the Mountain, and stupid Oberyn gets his skull crushed to jelly after delivering a fatal blow to his enemy.
My thoughts:

I don't know what Sansa's up to. This seems to be a sea-change in her personality, like OK I'm not going to get pushed around anymore and by the way Petyr Baelish you owe me. I like seeing her take more initiative and start pushing back. If anyone needs to straighten up and fly right in this show it's Sansa because clearly her tactic of being meek and mild hasn't been working.  I thought all the stuff about Jorah spying on Daenerys was really old hat and I was surprised to see it come back to bite him at this point. HBO had released some pictures showing him leaving her and I thought it was going to be a sexual-jealousy thing since she's sleeping with the other guy now but I guess not. The Grey Worm romance plot was sweet and I hope to see more of that but knowing Game of Thrones it won't end well for anyone.

And Oberyn. If you've read the books (or Wikipedia like me) you knew what to expect but it was still shocking. The show has been veering away from explicit sex lately (and hooray for that because really, it wasn't even titillating, it was just disgusting) but they're still fine with the gory violence. Poor Oberyn. I knew he was going to die this week but it was pretty gross. I like the way they teased out the suspense and put the scene at the very end of the episode.

I don't know anything in particular but I have a feeling we'll see Gilly again. I predict she'll end up at the Wall and we'll have one person who saw Igritte doing something evil (that kid whose parents she killed) and one person who saw her being merciful, and some kind of standoff will ensue. Or not. But they seem to be setting something up.

Two more episodes left guys! Then what are you going to watch?

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm still reading all the same books I was reading last week.

I've temporarily misplaced my copy of Seven Lives and One Great Love but I'm sure it will turn up. I'm nearly done anyway.
Secrecy is humming along. It's a good historical-fiction read. You definitely get the flavor of Medici Florence and it's fun to explore the city along with Zummo, the protagonist, a sculptor who's been given the strange task of creating a woman out of wax for a Florentine nobleman. In the mean time he's falling in love and getting involved in intrigues.

But oh my, not much I've read recently can compare with Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. This guy's writing alone is, like, incredible. I've heard the novel criticized for unlikable characters and a lot of explicit (gay male) sexual content and if those aren't your thing this isn't for you. Personally I don't find the characters so awful but they're certainly not meant to be nice. In any case the sheer beauty and momentum of Hollinghurst's way with the English language more than make up for anything else. This is a book I just want to be reading all the time. I love that feeling!

What about you? See more at and have a great week.